For some, Reformation Sunday is the Christian equivalent of the Fourth of July, a day to celebrate freedom from an oppressive overlord. For others, Reformation Sunday is a day to remember that the Church is called to read the times and respond faithfully in every generation. For some, Reformation Sunday is simply a Sunday to commemorate events lost to the past, the memory of which does little more than make Lutherans feel good about “beating” the Roman Catholics.
During this Reformation week and as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we should question practices of exclusion at the Eucharistic table where Christ intended to unite us. We should wonder at our treatment of children when we in effect teach them they can partake of Holy Communion only when they have reached a certain level of intellectual agreement and assent. We should wonder how we can ever hope to overcome the much greater forms of segregation (ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) if we cannot even come together around the table of our one Lord, Jesus Christ.
When in practice we teach justification through right belief, we return to pre-Reformation thought. The practice of excluding children from the Sacrament of the Altar reinforces the notion that God draws an invisible line between those who believe rightly, and are therefore worthy to receive Christ, and those whose lack of acceptable understanding makes them unworthy to receive God’s good gifts.
In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther says that “a person who has faith in these words, ‘given for you and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ is really worthy and well prepared [to partake of the sacrament].” Trust, not understanding, makes one worthy to receive. Yet we teach our children through our communion practice and through Reformation history in confirmation that only those with understanding and right belief are acceptable to God.
When Jesus’ disciples squabbled over who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus placed a child in their midst and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Mt 18.3, 5) He also told them, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mt 18.6) When Jesus’ disciples prevented children from coming to him, Jesus scolded them saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Mt. 19:14)